EU’s Hen Welfare Laws Prompt Retailers to Scramble for Egg Alternatives

Written by Erica Meier

Hen WelfareIn January 2012, the European Union’s ban on the use of barren wire battery cages to improve egg-laying hen welfare took effect – and the impact seems to ruffling the feathers of many retailers concerned about the rising cost of eggs.  In fact, egg prices have quadrupled in some markets in EU due to a shortage in supply.

Adopted in 1999, this newly-enacted farm animal welfare directive sets minimum standards of care for the more than 330 million egg-laying hens throughout the EU, most of whom have been intensively confined inside barren cages – until now. Under this directive, all egg producers are required to provide hens with more space, nesting areas, perches, and scratching areas.

Not all egg producers were willing or able to rip out their old barren cages and invest in new housing systems, which can include larger, yet more costly, enriched cages. According to the UK’s Daily Mail, as a result, “some in the industry simply abandoned production.”

Fewer hens, of course, mean fewer eggs. And as the egg supply decreases, the cost of eggs throughout Europe has been increasing. This, in turn, is prompting many retailers to explore the option of “switching to alternatives. In fact, in the UK, where egg sandwiches are typically in high demand, the director of the British Sandwich Association, Jim Winship, says that “in some cases, sandwich makers will switch away from eggs.”

Luckily, when it comes to egg-free alternatives, whether you’re cooking or baking, there’s no shortage in supply.  Just check out this entertaining video – Egg-Free Baking 101 – to get started or pick up some Vegg, a new all-vegan egg yolk replacer.

Sadly, in the US, barren wire battery cages are still the industry norm and more than 250 million laying hens are confined inside cages so small, they can barely even move. Earlier this year, however, Rep. Kurt Schraeder (D-OR, and the only veterinarian in the Congress) introduced the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments (HR 3798) that outlines a nationwide ban on barren battery cages. In addition to providing hens with more living space and environmental enrichments such as perches, nesting areas, and scratching areas so hens can engage in more natural behaviors, it also mandates that all egg cartons sold in the U.S. include a label that clearly identifies the method of production (i.e. “Eggs from Caged Hens”).

If passed, this would be the first-ever federal law related to the treatment of chickens raised for food. Read more about what this bill will do for laying hens and how you can take action.